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Public Statements

Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. GRASSLEY. Madam President, the Senate will vote today on an amendment that I am offering for myself, Senator CRUZ, Senator GRAHAM, and many others, as a substitute.

I believe that the underlying bill infringes on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners and it does not provide for adequate measures against criminals who commit gun violence.

My approach is much better than the Manchin-Toomey amendment.

The current background check database, called NICS, is broken. Not enough accurate information on prohibited persons is making its way into the database. This is particularly true for mental health records.

Checking firearms purchasers against an incomplete database will not be effective in stopping prohibited persons from gaining access to guns.

Additionally, we should not further strain the existing, broken system by expanding the use of an incomplete database to more transactions, as Manchin-Toomey would. We should fix the existing system. And that is what my amendment does.

First, we should reauthorize NICS. So the Grassley-Cruz amendment reauthorizes NICS Improvement Act grants to States for providing mental health records.

The amendment codifies one of President Obama's Executive orders that requires the Attorney General to issue guidance to federal agencies about which records they must submit to NICS.

It improves NICS as well by clarifying the definition of ``adjudicated mentally incompetent,'' so that it includes only actual adjudications, not a single psychiatrist's diagnosis.

Manchin-Toomey does not.

Mental health records would also be improved by requiring the Federal courts to make available to NICS information concerning such situations as defendants who plead guilty to a crime by reason of insanity.

This approach is consistent with what Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy writes today. He says:

[T]he national gun-control legislation set for debate in Congress would rely on a bureaucratic dragnet of ``background checks'' so extensive that anybody's hands could end up being the wrong ones. Including mine.

He thinks that gun control supporters are ``bent on harassing [him] into giving'' up his gun.

He also offers a prescription for the actual problems:

Go after the criminal. Take his illegal gun. Leave everybody else alone.

My amendment reflects that view. It enhances criminal prosecutions of those who use guns.

The real way to fight gun crime is to pursue criminals, not law-abiding citizens.

Under my amendment, Federal gun crime prosecutions are to be increased. This will happen because the very successful Project Exile will be expanded nationally. This initiative requires Federal and State officials to develop agreements on enforcing gun laws. It requires the U.S. Attorney to designate at least one assistant to prosecute firearms cases. Project Exile will be expanded to 18 jurisdictions, including three tribal jurisdictions, with high violent crime rates.

The Grassley-Cruz amendment authorizes $15 million per year for Project Exile, which will cover more Federal prosecutors and ATF agents.

Manchin-Toomey does not.

The amendment also establishes a task force for prosecuting felons and fugitives who fail NICS background checks.

Right now, thousands of people who are prohibited from owning guns fail background checks. Yet, the Justice Department prosecutes less than 1 percent of them. More of these criminals need to be prosecuted.

Manchin-Toomey does not address the issue.

The amendment also increases the maximum sentence from 5 years to 10 for those who lie and buy on the form that needs to be filled out when purchasing a gun from a licensed dealer.

We also need to think hard before the Justice Department asks gun dealers to sell guns to felons and then doesn't track them. That is why Operation Fast and Furious was such a disaster. It led to the death of a brave Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry.

To avoid such an ill-considered operation in the future, the amendment requires the Attorney General, the Deputy, or the head of the Criminal Division to personally approve any programs for selling guns to criminals.

The Leahy amendment's similar provision would allow the Director of ATF to make this determination. But the ATF Director did not object during Fast and Furious. So that defeats the whole point of requiring high-level approval.

Oversight work on Fast and Furious showed the need for Federal statutes against straw purchasing and gun trafficking. The amendment contains such offenses, but in a more targeted way than does the Leahy amendment.

And now that there is a trafficking offense, the amendment strikes ATF's unnecessary ability to issue demand letters collecting information on purchasers of certain rifles along the southwest border.

The way to target gun violence is to direct efforts against criminals, not law-abiding citizens. So the amendment increases the maximum penalty from 10 to 15 years for transferring a firearm to a prohibited user, as well as the penalty for illegally possessing a firearm.

It creates a 15-year maximum sentence for transferring a firearm to someone knowing that it will be used for a crime of violence, drug trafficking crime, foreign narcotics kingpin crime, or terrorism.

Contrary to what the majority would have the American people believe, mass shootings are not only about guns and mental illness. They are also about what has happened to us as a society.

So the amendment authorizes a study by the National Institute of Justice and National Academy of Sciences on the causes of mass shootings.

There are other proposals on that subject before us. But they are careful not to look at the entire problem. I don't want to single out any possible cause. But I also don't want to exempt any potential cause.

So some of the mass shooters, for instance, watched and used disturbing video games. The possible influence of violent video games should be part of what is examined.

The amendment also expands the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

It allows interstate firearms sales by permitting out-of-State dealers to sell in a State if they comply with all State laws in which they are selling.

It permits members of the armed services to buy a gun in their State of residence or where they are stationed.

The amendment allows firearms dealers to access NICS to run background checks on their prospective employees. But unlike Manchin-Toomey, the amendment requires that the rights of the prospective employee be respected. The employee would have to be provided notice and have to give their consent before such a check could be run.

Also unlike Manchin-Toomey, the amendment would expand the rights of lawful gun owners to travel through other States without fear of prosecution. Manchin-Toomey, whatever its intent, would make it more likely that law-abiding gun owners would be arrested and prosecuted as they traveled through other States.

Title II of the amendment addresses mental health.

It reauthorizes the bipartisan Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act.

These funds are used for mental health courts, crisis intervention teams, veteran treatment courts, police academy efforts, and prison services.

The amendment allows Byrne grants to be used for mental health programs and operations by law enforcement or corrections.

It allows COPS grants to be used for training law enforcement to deal with mental illness.

To restore the gun owning rights of our veterans, a judicial determination would be necessary to determine that a person is a danger to himself or others to be considered to have been adjudicated mentally defective.

Title III is focused on school safety.

It reauthorizes the Secure our School grants at the prior funding level of $30 million per year for 10 years.

To safeguard taxpayer money, it would require that different offices that award grants at the Justice Department consult with each other before these grants are awarded.

We want to help as many different schools as possible.

Finally, we should understand that Manchin-Toomey would not have stopped Newtown.

People who steal guns do not submit to background checks.

We heard testimony in the Judiciary Committee that background checks will be effective only if they are universal and accompanied by gun registration.

We should not start down the path to gun registration, as history shows where that leads.

Manchin-Toomey creates, not closes, loopholes by requiring background checks for some private sales but not others.

We have heard from gun control groups that were it to pass, they would immediately seek to expand background checks even further.

This would be a running start on a slippery slope.

The way Manchin-Toomey works, if someone takes out an ad for a gun in their church bulletin or farm bureau newsletter, they would have to proceed with a background check.

Manchin-Toomey's exception for family member transfers provides cold comfort.

If the family member transfers the gun to another family member he does not know, but is found later that he had reasonable cause to believe is prohibited, they could face 5 years in jail.

Even worse, for the first time, a violation of Federal law would be based on a violation of State or local law.

A family member may not know the firearms laws in the place where the other family member resides.

Those laws are published.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

A person would have reasonable cause to believe that a family member was in violation of them even if the person did not actually know those State or local laws.

If they transferred the gun to a family member, and they did not know the permitting rules in another state, under Manchin-Toomey, that family member could face up to 5 years in jail.

That is unacceptable.

We cannot have the fate of law-abiding citizens turn on assurances of prosecutorial discretion.

Finally, my amendment, and not Manchin-Toomey, protects the rights of law-abiding gun owners to travel through other States if their guns are unloaded and ammunition is secured.

Manchin-Toomey seems to do this but it does not.

It cuts back on existing protections.

It provides that the criminal immunity does not apply if the transportation does not violate any gun felony.

But some State laws say that not having a State permit for a gun is a felony.

So a law-abiding gun owner who did not have a permit would commit a State felony.

Under Manchin-Toomey, they could be arrested and prosecuted.

Other States that make gun transportation crimes misdemeanors could change those to felonies and eliminate the force of the Gun Owners Protection Act.

My amendment contains commonsense measures to fight gun violence in our communities and protect the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.

This is the better way to go.


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